Senate passes bill to award Congress’ highest honor to first Black NHL player
The US Senate passed legislation this week to grant Congress’ highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the first Black player to compete in the National Hockey League.
Known as “the Jackie Robinson of hockey,” O’Ree, 85, broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958 with the Boston Bruins, one of six teams at the time.
Despite being blind in one eye from a previous hockey injury, O’Ree played in 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins, scoring four goals and recording 10 assists. He retired from the sport in 1979 at age 43. He has spent the past two decades as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, working to expand the sport.
The bill was first introduced in 2019 by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. They reintroduced the legislation in February.
In a statement, Stabenow called O’Ree a “trailblazer for young people across the country,” touting his work on the NHL initiative “Hockey Is For Everyone.”
“From the hockey arena to serving young athletes in his community, Willie O’Ree’s legacy has inspired generations,” Scott said. “Willie’s career didn’t end on the ice; it was punctuated by the generations of athletes he helped navigate the path he paved.”
“I look forward to the House acting quickly on this well-deserved recognition of Willie’s historic achievements,” the senator added.
O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 for his off-ice contributions to the sport. The Bruins retired O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey in February.